My first trip to Mexico was over a decade ago. At that time I was more interested in diving and beach life than I was with climbing. Little did I know that some of the highest peaks in North America were just a few hours inland. This Mexican volcano trip to form a few months back when a good friend, Ethan, told me he was interested in climbing at altitude. Ethan and I both worked in Chiang Mai, and have spent countless days traveling and climbing together (oddly we have never climbed in the US together!). What really sealed the deal was a roundtrip flight from Detroit to Mexico City for 250 USD........you can't argue with that. Our objectives were Iztaccihuatl (17,160 ft) and Pico de Orizaba (18,491 ft), and as an added bonus we found time to do La Malinche (14,636 ft).
After a brief time in Mexico City we hopped a bus to Amecameca, a small town at the base of Itza. We spent a night a the Hotel San Carlos near the main square and gathered provisions for our climb. Water is hard to find on the mountain so I highly recommend buying bottled (10L jugs) water in town. After a restful night we caught a collectivo (a small bus) near the square to Paso de Cortes. Here we paid our park fee and continued to La Joya basecamp. Since we had a few extra hours before sundown we decided to hike up to the refugio to scope out the route and help acclimatize. The next morning we woke up, drank some mandatory coffee, and left by 3 a.m. The weather ended up being a bit funky so we holed up in the refugio for a few hour nap, but were still able to summit by 11 a.m. The route itself is pretty straight forward and well worn, however due to the number of false summits it can be psychologically draining. There are two small glaciers on the route that required crampons in the morning, and posed very little crevasse hazard. Ethan experienced mild AMS , but overall preformed very well considering he had never been at that elevation. The next morning we walked down to Paso de Cortes and talked our way into a ride from the guardaparques down to Puebla. Interestingly one of the guardaparques had actually grown up as an illegal alien in the United States and returned to Mexico to finish university. It was good to hear his perspective on immigration and how closely linked the US and Mexico really are.
As we were already ahead of our intended schedule we decided to stay in Puebla for a few nights and continue our acclimatization with a day trip to La Malinche. From Puebla we took a bus to Apizaco, and then a smaller collectivo to the IMSS resort near the trailhead. The hike itself starts in the trees paralleling an existing road, but then climbs steeply as you approach tree line. After summiting we decided to run up all the small sub peaks, mainly because it was just so damn fun! A dog followed us from the trailhead to the summit and back, which I believe is pretty common. It is worth bringing a small bowl for water and some extra food if you are followed, as our canine friend was very tired. We spent a few hours eating and drinking at the resort before we returned. The last collectivo left at 5:00 p.m.
Pico de Orizaba
One more night in Puebla and then we were off to the small town of Tlachichuca, the jumping off point for all climbers. We were directed to Senor Reyes and his family owned logistical service Servimont. His family has been a huge part of the climbing community here for over 3 generations. Their compound once served as a soap factory in the early 20th century, and still retains the original machinery and artifacts from that era. They also offer beds in a dormitory setting, meals, and most importantly 4x4 transport to Piedra Grande. The ride up to Piedra Grande took around 2 hours, and still allowed us time to set up our tent an make a recognizance hike to check out the Labyrinth. There is a refugio that can hold up to 40 people, however it was packed when we were there and so decided to sleep outside. Again, water is hard to come by here so pack in your own supply. Summit day took us roughly 7 hours roundtrip and was a great cap to the trip. Route finding is very straight forward, and we saw only a few crevasses on the upper mountain (nothing more than 6 inches wide).
With a few extra days to spare we caught the bus from Tlachichuca to Puebla, and then Puebla to Mexico City. If given the chance definitely check out the Museum of Anthropology and take in as much delicious food as possible.
- Feb. 18: Arrive in Mexico City / bus to Amecameca
- Feb. 19: Transport to La Joya / acclimatization hike
- Feb. 20: Summit Itza
- Feb. 21: Transport to Puebla
- Feb. 22: Summit Malinche
- Feb. 23: Travel to Tlachichuca / Piedra Grande
- Feb. 24: Summit Pico de Orizaba / transport to Tlachichuca
- Feb. 25: Travel to Mexico City
- Feb. 26: Site seeing in Mexico City
- Feb. 27: Fly out
"Mexico Volcanoes," by R.J. Secor